Getting corny with a late-summer soup

Whenever I cut fresh corn off the cob (or get anywhere near corn-on-the-cob, actually), I think about my Grandpa Merwin. Toothless, he was undaunted by such propositions as sinking teeth into cobbed corn. When a platter of steaming ears was presented, he simply whipped out his pocket knife, clicked the blade open and began slicing those buttery kernels free of their shackles, and he then shoveled them directly into his mouth.

It was my first time seeing corn cut this way, and it was one of my first lessons in not letting anything stand in your way — especially if you were hungry. Grandpa could have worn false teeth, but he said they pinched and made him “look like a horse.” He shunned aesthetics and was toothless for as long as I knew him, but did not let this “handicap” deter him from eating anything — corn, steak, chicken, crunchy veggies. His favorite cereal was Grape-Nuts, for cry eye! So what we feel we are lacking is a matter of, well, mind over matter.

As these late summer days waned, I found myself happily outside in my backyard by the composter, transported back to Kansas, as I pulled husks off of ears of fresh farmer’s market sweet corn.

I’d had visions of corn chowder in my head for some time, especially since magazines like Southern Living provided enticing recipe reminders. It was time for some full corn flavor to capture summer before it was gone.

I’d always enjoyed a good corn chowder. A number of years earlier, I made “Joy of Cooking’s” delicious rendition, which used bacon as its flavor heart and instructed the cook to plop the de-kerneled cobs into the soup as it simmered to draw out even more corny flavor.

Corn chowder, any way, can’t be beat — warm and buttery with potatoes, spicy with peppers, creamy with cheese, hearty with chicken. This latest version I was going to try was very simple (so simple, it was called “soup”), and could be served cold, which intrigued me, and was finished off with an array of toppings that included bacon, pesto and corn relish (which I had happened to preserve a season before). This sweet soup could be served as an appetizer, for sure, or a full meal.

Once kernels are removed from cobs (oh, Grandpa, you are with me), and more of the corn “milk” is extracted by pressing and running the knife down once more, the soup comes together in a quick 20 minutes, seasoned basically with onion, garlic and a finish of white wine vinegar. The corn, as always, speaks, simply and profoundly, for itself. The soup is pureed in the blender, then here is where I defied the recipe, which instructed to sieve the soup so that only the juices remain. What?!? All the nubby corn texture? I left it in, which likely made the soup a thicker rendition, but yummy to be sure.

I loved all the toppings, an outstanding way to present and enhance this soup. There was no clear favorite among them, but I have to say, my own tangy corn relish imparted a feisty, corn-on-corn flavor treat. Pesto, I now feel, must be a finish on all corn chowder and maybe other soups as well. And as for topping with bacon, I need to say nothing. Bacon, too, speaks for itself.

Chilled Sweet Corn Soup
From Southern Living magazine (www.southernliving.com)
Serves 6

3 ears fresh sweet yellow corn, shucked
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion (from 1 medium onion)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (about 2 garlic cloves)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Toppings: bacon, pesto, or Spicy Corn Relish

Cut kernels from corncobs; place in a bowl. Using the large holes of a box grater, scrape liquid and pulp from cobs into another bowl. Discard cobs.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Add onion, and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in corn kernels, garlic, salt, and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add water and reserved corn liquid and pulp. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 4 minutes. Transfer to a blender, and add olive oil. Remove center piece of blender lid (to let steam escape); secure lid on blender, and place a clean towel over opening in lid. Process until smooth, 2 minutes.

Pour mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl; press with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids. Stir in vinegar; cover and chill 4 to 8 hours. Pour into 6 (4-ounce) glasses; add toppings.

Pesto:
Add a swirl of store-bought or homemade pesto to each serving.
Bacon:
Top every serving with 1 tsp. each sour cream and chopped cooked thick-cut bacon and 1/2 tsp. sliced scallions.

Spicy Corn Relish:
Combine 1/2 cup fresh corn kernels, 2 tsp. minced red Fresno chile, 1 1/2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil,  1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Divide mixture among servings.

Blogger’s Note: This soup can be served cold, room temperature or warm. I did not sieve the soup, but left all the pureed corn texture in the finished version. I did not make the spicy corn relish, but instead used my own home-preserved relish. I’m sure a purchased jarred version would be tasty, too.

 

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